Dancers bring worldwide flair to audience
Susan Broili, The Herald Sun
July 16, 2012

The American Dance Festival’s fifth week had an international flavor when Israel’s Vertigo Dance Company and Ragamala Dance came to town.

The Minneapolis-based Ragamala Dance proves that tradition can be transplanted. Their performance offers an Indian feast for the ears and eyes. Vocalist and musicians sit onstage as their melodic, meditative sounds begin the 90-minute “Sacred Earth” and sets the mood of ritual and centuries-old traditions. Breathtakingly beautiful backdrops of landscapes, ocean and fantastical trees where birds perch and monkeys swing add to the exotic atmosphere. Anil Chaitya Vangad created these paintings in the Warli style, a craft his family has practiced for three generations. The art, music and South Indian classical dance form of Bharatanatyam make this performance a rich, cultural experience.

This dance begins with a ritual practiced each morning in southwestern India by women who make rice flour designs on the ground as offerings to Mother Earth. Dancers release rice flour in circular patterns on the stage floor. When they finish, they squat, knees out to the side, and press hands together in prayer.

The entire dance has a reverent quality that honors the earth. Dancers make planting motions, smoothing the ground, casting seeds. At one point, a dancer’s down-turned finger motions suggest rain.

Dancing alternates between sculptural poses and embodiment of rhythms. When dancers stamp their feet, their ankle bells jingle. One soloist uses her feet to duplicate each intricate, changing rhythm of the drums.

Even though it is based in Minneapolis, this company represents a long Indian tradition since half of its members come directly from that culture. There’s Ranee Ramaswamy, who founded the company in 1992, and her daughter Aparna Ramaswamy, who both serve as artistic directors as well as dance, and another daughter, Ashwini Ramaswamy, a dancer. They are joined by a disciple of many years, Tamara Nadel.

In addition to the inclusion of two U.S. dancers relatively new to this art form, Jessica Fiala and Amanda Dlouhy, students of Aparna and Ranee Ramaswamy, this company also adds some other modern aspects. While musicians’ instruments include the traditional nattuvangam, a set of cymbals, there’s also a Western instrument – the violin.